One thing there is plenty of in the world today is travel websites. One thing there is a decided lack of is some degree of regulation or formal editorial process which vets these sites for accuracy, validity, timeliness, and of course, lack of bias. A good number of websites are run by companies with strong pecuniary interests in encouraging you to make a certain trip or, obviously, to buy a specific package. Others are more subtle and do not seem to be directly advertising their or others’ wares, yet their information is vague, overly sunny and generally unclear.
Then there is the granddaddy of them all – Wikitravel. I for one, for the sake of full disclosure, am a Wikitravel contributor, to the China page, as well as several others. I am a strong supporter of the wiki project – wikipedia, wikitravel, wiktionary, wikibooks, etc. I believe that the collective mind of the world concentrating on a single task with no vested interests (monetary anyway) in the outcome is an excellent way for providing and expanding human knowledge. The masses working on a single project are also beneficial in that their numbers are sufficient that whenever a hot head gets in there and makes a mess of things, it is generally corrected quite rapidly.
This does not apply so much to some of the areas of wikitravel that I haunt. While the China page is heavily monitored and edited with a core of about 10-20 contributors who make sure it stays more or less on track, many of the smaller regional pages are decidedly lacking. Part of the reason is a lack of contributors to these pages. A further difficulty is for lack of a critical mass of contributors, there will be less content, it will be far more subjective, and it will not likely be updated as frequently as a site like wikitravel must in order to live up to its niche market of providing absolutely up-to-date travel information. This may sound like a quibble but it is significant if a traveler is interested in using wikitravel in lieu of traditional guidebooks.
Another interesting facet of wikitravel is some of its pages tend to get ripped off and posted on other websites. I have seen this happen with the Guiyang page, for example.
Original text: http://wikitravel.org/en/Guiyang
Copy: (word for word) http://www.travelchinaplanner.com/html/cityguides/guizhou/guiyang.html
Copy: (spread over several pages – they give wikitravel the credit for the images, however): http://iguide.travel/Guiyang
This is fine since wikitravel is not proprietary, yet it begs the question then of who is vetting this material before spreading it around the Internet? Where the information is good, current and reliable, then there is no problem. What happens for more obscure pages (like Guiyang) where the information does not have armies of editors constantly tweaking it and driving it toward the golden mean?
The general point is that the Internet is a great introduction to travel in China and there is a wealth of information available. However, we must be cautious and look at the motivations of the people who created the various travel sites (ie: are they using rose-colored glasses in order to sell their tour products), as well as check to see if companies which ostensibly are professional lack the creativity to write their own text (see above – the China Travel Guide website did the same thing with Guiyang and Zunyi as well, but they credit wikipedia and wikitravel: http://www.chinatravelguide.com/ctgwiki/Zunyi).
Text also appears to have been cut and repasted here: http://www.traveldojo.com/guizhou/
For all those cutting and pasting text on the Internet, I say, good on you. Read around and study a bit. But maybe…just maybe…then write it in your own words!